Best budget smartphones 2018
CHRIS MARTIN rounds up our favourite handsets
Costing over £1,000, flagship phones are more expensive than ever, but as these get better so too do more affordable models. Indeed, it’s now possible to buy a handset for under £200, and still get a device capable of everything you throw at it.
Should you buy a locked phone?
You’ll quickly find that some of the best deals on cheap phones are sold via mobile operators. What you
need to look out for is whether these phones are sold locked to that operator’s network.
This is the case with the EE Hawk ( page 96), but if you don’t want to become a EE customer you should look elsewhere on the list for a non-network-branded handset, such as the Moto G5.
What about a Chinese phone?
An alternative is to buy a Chinese phone. You might not have heard of the brands, and they won’t be available on the UK High Street (save for the likes of Huawei and ZTE), but they are well-known for offering amazing specifications for the money and undercutting their European rivals. In most cases you’ll get a phone with a mid-range specification at a budget price.
What will you get for your money?
If you’re looking for an affordable phone, you have to accept the fact that the manufacturer is going to cut some corners to achieve that low price and you aren’t going to get the same speed, features, and display quality as you might with a phone costing two, three, or even four times the price.
It used to be the case that budget phones were instantly recognizable by their low-resolution displays, meagre storage, and chunky, plastic bodies, but things are improving in this area all the time. These days, for £200 or less it’s possible to buy a phone with a Full HD display and a sub 8mm-thick metal body.
Most will support 4G connectivity, but not all will support NFC (Chinese phones will often feature
HotKnot which is a similar technology, but not the same as NFC.)
1. Honor 9 Lite £199 from fave.co/2t0pN2H
There‘s no let up in the smartphone market and Honor has yet another new handset to tempt those looking for a stylish phone at an affordable price. Over the following pages we take a close look at the 9 Lite.
Honor’s range can get a little confusing, especially when you include Huawei, the firm’s parent company, devices into the mix.
So the Honor 9 Lite sounds like a cut-down version of the excellent Honor 9, and while it is to some extent, it’s also a sort of mini or light edition of the Honor View 10 because of its 18:9 screen.
However, the device is closest – almost identical in fact – to the Huawei P Smart, which has just launched on Vodafone. Honor’s version, though, will be a great way of picking up the same phone on a contract-free basis.
There’s no design overhaul when it comes to the Honor 9 Lite. It looks like the Honor 9, one of our favourite mid-range phones ever, so has the now familiar combination of glass and aluminium.
The firm’s current range of phones are very glossy and eye-catching thanks to the glass front and rear covers and the signature blue colour. The ‘mirrorlike’ finish – on the blue and grey models – might
be attractive in photos, but quickly gets grubby with fingerprints and the like.
In design, it actually looks like a successor to the Honor 9 due to a move to an 18:9 screen, which is all the rage these days. That’s why it also looks similar to the firm’s View 10, which is bigger. That said, Honor has moved the fingerprint scanner to the back instead of squeezing it in below the display. This is pretty usual for an 18:9 smartphone and the sensor is neatly placed in the middle and away from the cameras. There is a camera bump, but it’s very small and doesn’t cause the phone to rock when placed on a flat surface.
The new screen means the Honor 9 Lite is a little taller than the regular model. It’s marginally thicker at 7.6mm, but it’s actually lighter by 6g at 149g. In the UK, the Honor 9 Lite is available in Sapphire Blue, Midnight Black and Glacier Grey.
Overall, the Honor 9 Lite is easily one of the nicest phones around in terms of design and build at under £200. It certainly doesn’t feel like a budget device, but can it offer enough when it comes to specs and performance?
Much is similar to the regular Honor 9, but the even cheaper newbie has the same 18:9 style screen available on the View 10.
That 5.6in screen sits between the 9 and View 10 in terms of size. The resolution is slightly higher than the 9 at Full HD+ 2,160x1,080 to accommodate the 18:9 aspect ratio and retain the 428ppi pixel density. Overall, the IPS screen is very nice offering decent brightness, an ‘eye comfort’ mode and the softer
colours of an LCD panel. We’re very impressed for a phone at under £200.
Processor, memory and storage
It’s no surprise that the Honor 9 Lite has a lower grade processor than its comrades, with a Kirin 659 – as used in the Honor 7X – instead of the flagship level 960 or 970. It’s still an octa-core chip with decent speeds. Other specification cuts are expected, but getting 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage is perfectly acceptable and enough for most people buying a phone in this range. And there’s always the microSD card slot if you need to add more storage – up to 256GB more. As you can see in our benchmark results, it outpaces key rivals such as the Moto G5 in Geekbench, though the Nokia 5 offers better graphics
performance thanks to its lower resolution screen. Overall, we’ve found the performance to be smooth in general usage, but it’s not flawless. The main issue is that the camera can take a while to load, and we’ve even found the app menu to lag sometimes.
Using a memory card will take up the second SIM slot, though this won’t bother most users. The Honor 9 Lite features LTE connectivity, NFC, 11b/g/n Wi-Fi and GPS. It doesn’t have the more modern reversible USB-C port but does have the more and more elusive headphone jack.
The fingerprint scanner on the back works well and can be used for various things other than unlocking
the phone. These include taking photos, answering calls, stopping alarms, browsing photos and pulling the notification panel down – you just need to switch them on in the settings.
Apart from having a ‘FullView’ display, Honor is really selling the 9 Lite on the basis that it has no less than four cameras. You’ll find a combination of 13- and 2Mp camera on the front and back. Each pair works together to provide what’s commonly known as a portrait mode, where the 13Mp sensor captures the detail, while the low resolution sensor is there for
depth effect. Although the rear cameras are the same, they feature HDR and phase detection auto focus.
Once again, the Honor 9 Lite is impressive here if not perfect. Aside from the camera taking a while to load and the autofocus taking a while to lock on, the results are generally good from both rear and front. As you might expect from a budget phone, low light performance isn’t anything special but as you can see opposite the HDR mode works well for landscape and the portrait mode does a decent job – just remember to turn on the bokeh effect to blur the background.
It’s understandable there’s nothing like wireless charging here and even no USB-C. There’s a 3,000mAh battery, which is about average for a midrange phone, but more than usual for the budget category. Some fast charging would be nice, but perhaps that’s too much to ask at this price.
Honor promises a whole day’s use and that’s what we’ve found during our testing. Even being out and about relying on the 9 Lite for Google Maps and more wasn’t enough for it to conk out before bedtime.
It’s great to see that the Honor 9 Lite comes with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box. That’s the latest version, which many of last year’s phones, even the Galaxy S8, haven’t been updated to yet.
Honor adds Huawei’s EMUI 8.0 on-top which used to be a big issue but the overlay has been improved over time. These days it’s closer to stock, simpler and
easier to use. You get the Google Now panel a swipe away from the home screen, gorgeous lock screen images that change every time you unlock and the option to customize the phone with Themes.
There are still issues though, and on the downside there are a few too many pre-installed apps, including no less than six games and by default there’s no app draw. Luckily, you can easily switch it on in the settings. You can do things like double-tap to wake the screen but they’re switched off by default. As is the app draw/menu, so you’ll be presented with an iOS-style layout at first. Not everyone will like SwiftKey either, but you can easily install a different keyboard if you like.
Overall, then, it’s not a perfect software experience, but it’s much better than previously and most issues can be rectified with some customization.
The Honor 9 Lite might not have all the mod cons, but it’s one of the cheapest phones around to offer an 18:9 screen with a bezel-free design. It’s an attractive device and general specifications are good, including no less than four cameras. It doesn’t have flawless performance but there’s little to complain about at under £200 making it the best budget smartphone around. Chris Martin
• 5.69in (2160x1080, 428ppi) IPS LCD capacitive display • Android 8.0 Oreo
• HiSilicon Kirin 659 processor • Octa-core 4x 2.36GHz Cortex-A53 and 4x 1.7GHz
Cortex-A53 CPU • Mali-T830 MP2 GPU • 3/4GB RAM • 32/64GB storage, microSD up to 256GB • Fingerprint scanner • Dual rear-facing cameras: 13- and 2Mp, phase
detection autofocus, LED flash • Dual front-facing cameras: 13- and 2Mp, 1080p • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi • Bluetooth 4.2 • A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS • Micro-USB 2.0 • Non-removable lithium-polymer 3,000mAh battery • 151x71.9x7.6mm • 149g
2. Moto G6 Play £169 from fave.co/2IbusST
The Moto G6 Play is a sleek budget phone that costs just £169. It is an outstanding affordable phone in 2018
that in no way feels like one despite costing less than the Moto G6 and G6 Plus.
While those two handsets have better specifications, the G6 Play has charmed us right out the box. It is well designed, sleek yet sturdy and a decent performer considering the low-end spec sheet. Here’s our review explaining why the Moto G6 Play is such a good deal.
While the G6 and G6 Plus look pretty much identical, the Moto G6 Play has a slightly different design. You can tell it’s part of the same range of phones, but the Play has a few quirks that make it stand out.
For starters, the fingerprint scanner is on the back and has the Motorola logo on it. You might prefer the placement compared to the frontmounted G6 and G6 Plus, but that’s entirely down to personal preference.
At first glance you’d think Motorola had removed its headphone jack, but actually it’s moved it from its position next to the USB port on the G6 and G6 Play to the top of the device. Another change here is that this port is Micro-USB rather than USB-C, which is a shame considering its an older standard, but understandable considering the price.
While the more expensive G6 models have a sleek 3D glass rear cover, the G6 Play is plastic. It still looks and feels good though, and actually the plastic cover helps in terms of grip. The other thing missing here is a p2i water-repellent coating (in the UK at least), so you’ll have to be a little more careful
with it around water, but we used it in the rain and it came out unscathed.
The G6 Play is a bit chunkier than most phones at 9mm and weighs a reasonable 175g. These aren’t huge differences to the other G6 phones, though and the bulk and weight actually help to make it feel more premium – but if you want a slim, sleek phone this is not it. Our review unit is an attractive hue though somewhat a fingerprint magnet. But the way it reflects light is very cool for a budget phone and helps it to stand out, along with its circular camera module.
The G6 Play’s screen is a 5.7in 18:9 LCD, but not a Full HD resolution at 1440x720p. We still really liked using the phone, and the lower resolution of the display in comparison to the G6 and G6 Plus isn’t an issue in our eyes. It can deal with colour reproduction well
in standard mode, but has the option to change to vibrant to boost the saturation. The display is more than sufficient at this price, and this is one of the cheapest 18:9 phones we’ve seen, and Netflix on the bus was no trouble at all.
Processor, memory and storage
It’s impressive to see the G6 Play has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, which matches the entry configuration of the regular G6. However, the processor drops from a Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 to a 430. The lower-grade chip means performance isn’t as good, and in a tangible way, though we found the phone perfectly serviceable as our main phone for several days. Multi-tasking is a tad slow at times and the camera app lags, but for calls, texts, social media,
email and even Spotify to Bluetooth headphones, the G6 Play is surprisingly excellent.
As our benchmarks shows, the G6 Play holds its own against phones of the same price and specifications. It performs faster in frames per second tests than the G6 due to its lower resolution screen – but in fact, you won’t notice any difference in use between any of these four phones.
Connectivity and audio
As is standard on lower-end phones, there is Bluetooth 4.2 for connecting to accessories such as speakers, but with the absence of the aptX standard, audio quality to wireless headphones is noticeably patchy. If you want to use the speaker, it’s a front port deal and gets quite loud, but is only suited to talk radio or podcast playback – and a quiet solo Netflix session at a push.
Motorola has given the G6 Play a 13Mp camera, but there’s no secondary lens. There’s phase detection autofocus and an f/2.0 aperture, and the results are just about social media-acceptable, but it is obviously not a standout shooter.
Note how it can capture the sky well in some shots, but it becomes blown out in others. The level of detail captured for a budget phone is pretty decent, though.
Video is limited to 1080p at 30fps, though the phone can still record slow motion. The front camera is 8Mp like the other G6 models but, again, has fewer features here and is passable at best.
Although most areas are downgrades, the Play offers a much higher-capacity battery than both the other G6 phones. It’s a whopping 4,000mAh, compared to the 3,000- and 3,200mAh G6 and G6 Plus.
Motorola says this means you can get 32 hours usage from the device, which sounds amazing – and more importantly we found to be true in real world use. The G6 Play lasted for over two days of use before hitting anywhere near 10 percent battery, which is impressive on a modern (if low-end) smartphone.
It also benefits from Turbo Charging: you can get six hours of life from a 15-minute charge and in our tests, it charged from 0- to 33 percent in half an hour.
Overall, the experience on the G6 Play is solid thanks to Moti’s uncluttered Android skin that barely changes anything from stock. Notably, there are fewer camera features on the phone compared to the G6 and G6 Plus thanks to the lack of dual rear cameras.
You still get Android 8.0 Oreo with a stock interface – it’s very much the experience you get on Google’s own Pixel devices bar a few aesthetic changes. That means Android as it’s intended, with no bloatware to take up valuable storage, important when you only have 32GB (although it is expandable).
Motorola does add its own Moto app, which contains helpful things such as actions and things you can do with the display. The G6 Play doesn’t have Moto Voice, though.
The Moto G6 Play is a great little surprise of a phone. It holds its own next to the other two G6 phones and has better battery life (and a cooler fingerprint sensor). The 18:9 display and premium (but plastic) design means it feels just as well-made as phones double the price but doesn’t compromise on performance to do so. With a headphone jack as a plus, a minus is Micro-USB but we’ll forgive that on its strengths and can recommend the G6 Play as one of the best budget phones of 2018. Chris Martin and Henry Burrell
• 5.7in (1440x720, 282ppi) IPS LCD capacitive display • Android 8.0 Oreo • Qualcomm MSM8937 Snapdragon 430 processor • Octa-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 CPU • Adreno 505 GPU • 2/3GB RAM • 16/32GB storage, microSD up to 256GB • Iris/fingerprint scanner • 13Mp rear-facing camera: f/2.0, 1.12μm, phase
detection autofocus, LED flash • 8Mp front-facing camera: LED flash, 1080p • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi • Bluetooth 54.2 • A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS • Micro-USB 2.0 • Non-removable lithium-ion 4,000mAh battery
• 154.4x72.2x9mm • 175g
3. Moto G5 £119 from fave.co/2JhUdS4
Premium for All’ is Lenovo’s new motto for its G5 phones, the Moto G5 and G5 Plus, which aim to offer the build quality and feel of a flagship device at decidedly non-flagship prices. That’s especially true of the G5, which offers a metal body, rapid charging, and fingerprint sensor controls – all at a sub-£200 price.
Design is where the G5 has seen the biggest overhaul from its predecessor. The phone features an aluminium body – instead of the G4’s plastic – which
means it immediately feels like a more expensive phone than it is. The 5in display stretches most of the way to the sides of the body, though there’s still plenty of bezel at the top and bottom.
The rear of the phone is dominated by the large camera aperture that sits above a brushed metal Motorola ‘M’. At 144.5g, it’s a comfortable weight and has that reassuring heft of any metal-bodied device, while it measures 144.3x73x9.5mm, which is small enough to use in one hand. It’s available in Lunar Grey, Sapphire Blue or Fine Gold – our review unit was the grey model, which is attractively understated.
The G5 doesn’t offer the sort of striking design that’s likely to turn heads – at least not until you tell someone how little you paid for it. It’s mostly straightforward, unassuming stuff, but it’s the feel of the phone and its build quality, that really sells it. This is a handset that feels and looks well-made – ‘cheap’ never once sprang to mind. It’s simple, it’s elegant and there aren’t many better-looking phones that will cost you this little.
Offering that sort of design and build quality at less than £200 comes at a price, of course, and the Moto G5’s internal specifications are where it lives down to its price.
It’s powered by a Snapdragon 430 with a 1.4GHz eight-core CPU and 450MHz Adreno 505 GPU. Our review unit came with 3GB RAM, though you can also get it with 2GB. With only a £10 price difference, we’d find it hard not to recommend opting for the
higher-spec model. To be blunt, the benchmark results aren’t great (see overleaf). We were surprised to see slightly worse scores than from 2016’s G4, likely because it runs the more recent – but less powerful – Snapdragon 430, compared to the G4’s Snapdragon 617. Even a better GPU and more RAM weren’t enough to make up for the CPU gap.
Even so, in day-to-day use the G5 doesn’t feel slow, and it should be more than enough for average usage, including streaming video and light gaming. The G5 never feels like it’s underperforming.
The 5in display is full 1080p and 441ppi, with crisp, bright colours, though it has no Gorilla Glass protection. Below that you’ll find the fingerprint sensor, which doubles up as a replacement for Android’s on-screen buttons, through some nifty
swipe controls. The Moto G5 comes with a small 16GB of on-board storage, but there’s support for microSD cards up to 128GB. The rear camera is 13Mp with LED flash and phase detection autofocus, while the front camera is 5Mp. Taking photos with the autofocus was almost instantaneous, and for the most part we were able to capture crisp, clear photos even in challenging lighting.
There’s a 2,800mAh battery, which should provide a full day’s use pretty comfortably. The most we managed to wear it down to was 20 percent after 16 hours of usage, including some heavy camera and internet use – you can trust the G5 to last the day, but you will want to charge it each night.
It comes packaged with a 10W Micro-USB rapid charger, which is able to provide a few hours of battery life after just 15 minutes or so of charging – as
long as the battery is low to start with. It also supports TurboPower charging, which can offer six hours of battery in the same time, though you’ll have to buy the charger separately. There’s also 2.4- and 5GHz WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth 4.2 and a water-repellent coating. One big omission is NFC, so you won’t be able to use Android Pay or its equivalents. You do get a 3.5mm headphone jack, though.
The G5 comes loaded with Android 7.0 Nougat, and runs a version that’s close to stock, with a few ‘Moto experiences’ added on (more on those in a moment). What this means is that if you’re looking for something not far from the pure Android experience, but don’t want to splash out on the Google Pixel, the Moto G5 could be a good option.
It’s also one of the first phones included in the search giant’s new expansion of its Google Assistant services, previously limited to only a handful of handsets, though it wasn’t on the G5 at launch. Eventually, you can probably expect the new AI assistant to be ubiquitous across Android, but for now this will be one of the cheapest ways to get your hands on it.
The big difference from stock Android is the inclusion of the gesture-based ‘Moto Actions’, some of which may be familiar from other Motorola phones, while others are entirely new. They’re all optional, and are activated or deactivated from the included Moto app. You can do a double ‘karate chop’ motion to turn on the torch, and quickly twist
the phone backwards and forwards twice to activate the camera. Placing the phone face down on a table sets it do ‘Do Not Disturb’, while picking it up when it’s ringing will silence the ringtone.
You can also swipe up from the bottom of the screen to shrink the display for easy one-handed use. The most welcome addition is the use of the fingerprint sensor as a one-button replacement for Android’s normal on-screen controls. You can now swipe left across the sensor to go back, tap it for home, and swipe right to open the list of recent apps.
It’s an intuitive system and within seconds we were comfortably swiping away – it really speeds up loads of basic tasks, and is a feature not many other Android phones have yet. Occasionally, it can be a bit fiddly – registering your swipe as a press, or vice versa – but for the most part it works well, and it feels sluggish switching back to on-screen buttons. It’s especially helpful here given the G5’s relatively petite 5in screen – the extra screen real estate gained by removing the on-screen buttons makes the display feel more expansive than it really is.
There’s fierce competition in Android’s budget market, but the Moto G5 is a strong contender. The build quality alone feels like it belongs on a much more expensive phone, while the fingerprint gesture controls genuinely improve the Android experience. The benchmarks and battery hold it back, but they’re not unreasonable given the price – and you won’t find a much better-looking phone at £169. You might want
to spend the extra to get the Moto G5 Plus with more storage, a better camera and more. Dominic Preston
• 5.85in (1,080x920, 441ppi) touchscreen • Android 7.0 Nougat • 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 octa-core chip • Adreno 505 graphics • 2- or 3GB RAM • 16GB storage • 13Mp main camera, LED flash, support for 1080p
video at 30fps • 5Mp front camera • 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi (2.4- and 5GHz) • Bluetooth 4.2 • 4G LTE
• Nano-SIM • 2,800mAh removable battery • Micro-USB rapid charging • MicroSD support up to 128GB • Water-repellent nano-coating • 144.3x73x9.5mm • 144.5g
4. Nokia 5 £179 from fave.co/2gebE9w
Although the Nokia 5 was launched by HMD Global at MWC 2017 back in February, it’s still one of the best budget handsets you can get.
We love the design of the Nokia 5. We were so pleasantly surprised when we first picked it up,
already knowing how low the price tag is. It has a 5.2in display within a neat, compact body. It feels incredibly premium, with smooth, rounded edges that make it sleek and comfortable to hold.
It’s made from a single block of 6000 series aluminium, and uses Gorilla Glass to add durability to the display. It weighs 160g and measures just 8mm in thickness. The bezels on either side of the screen are tiny, and seem to blend right into the chassis. The 5.2in display means the overall size of the phone is good for one-handed use and portability while still offering enough room for a good experience when watching videos or playing games.
The Nokia 5 is available in Matte Black, Silver, Tempered Blue or Copper. We particularly like the blue option, but all four colours look gorgeous. Show this phone to a friend and they’ll never guess the price tag. Consider us impressed.
While we love the size of the screen, a downfall is that its display resolution isn’t as high as we’d have liked.
It’s 1,280x720 HD at 282ppi, which still manages to be vivid and bright, but when compared with the likes of the Moto G5’s Full HD offering on a phone with the slightly lower price tag it’s a bit of a shame that the Nokia 5 misses out.
Inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor, which is the same processor you’ll find inside the Nokia 6 and the Moto G5. That’s paired with Adreno 505 graphics and 2GB RAM. It managed to achieve a significantly better score than the Moto G5 in our
Geekbench 4 processor tests, although it couldn’t quite live up to the Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus in every test.
In practice, we found the Nokia 5 plenty fast enough for day-to-day tasks such as sending messages, checking emails and browsing the web. Apps open without much lag, including the camera app, and the only time we found it a little too slow is when we needed to use the flash.
It also achieved much higher scores than the Moto G5 in all of our GFXBench tests, which are designed to test the graphics capabilities.
There’s 16GB of internal memory with support for up to 128GB of additional storage via microSD.
There’s a non-removable 3,000mAh battery that charges via Micro-USB, which we found could last for a full day on one charge with reasonably heavy
use, and two days or more with light use, which we were suitably satisfied by. Again, this beats the Moto G5’s 2,800mAh battery, although the Nokia 5 misses out on the rapid charging capabilities which typically gives a few hours of battery life after just 15 minutes of charging.
Connectivity includes Bluetooth 4.1, NFC and LTE 4G, and there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top for your wired headphones.
A fingerprint sensor is built into the home button, and we found it to be easy to setup and almost always quick and responsive.
When it comes to cameras, the Nokia 5 has a 13Mp camera on the rear with a dual tone flash. Photos are captured in 4:3 aspect ratio, and if you want to capture 16:9 you’ll reduce the quality to 8Mp.
This is in line with rivals like the Moto G5, and we found that it could capture satisfactory photos in most lighting, perfect for on-the-go shots to look back on or to share on social media.
The front-facing camera offers 8Mp for selfies, which is better than the Moto G5’s 5Mp offering.
Low light photos aren’t great, but the flash makes up for this as you’ll see from the photo of St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel overleaf.
The Nokia 5 is among the first Nokia phones to run the Android operating system. It comes with Android 7.1.1, and fans of stock Android will be pleased to hear that
Nokia has left it well alone. This is one of the cheapest ways to get stock Android outside of the Pixel series made by Google itself so a big thumbs up from us. That means an intuitive interface and no additional bloatware. The Nokia 5 also offers Google Assistant, which is the Android AI assistant in the same way that Siri is Apple’s iOS voice assistant.
We’ve long been lovers of the Moto G series for the top pick in the budget Android category, but the Nokia 5 knocks it off the top spot. With a better camera,
better performance and a stunning design, we are blown away by the low price tag offered here.
A downside is the screen resolution, but if you can look past this and you’re looking for an Android smartphone that costs less than £200, you can’t get much better than this. Ashleigh Macro
• 5.2in (1280x720, 282ppi) IPS display • Android 7.1.1 Nougat • Qualcomm MSM8937 Snapdragon 430 processor • Octa-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 CPU • Adreno 505 GPU • 2GB RAM • 16GB storage (microSD up to 256GB) • 13Mp, f/2.0, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED
(dual tone) flash • 8Mp, f/2.0, 1.12μm pixel size • A-GPS/GLONASS • Bluetooth 4.1 • NFC • Micro-USB 2.0 • 3,000mAh non-removable lithium-ion battery • 3.5mm headphone socket • 149.7x72.5x8mm • 160g
5. EE Hawk £149 from fave.co/2xH3SQK
Mobile operator branded phones are a curious thing. They often come and go every year, particularly from
Vodafone, without much fanfare. Often too these handsets are unattractive to consumers as they are filled with branded bloatware. Luckily, the EE Hawk is a refreshingly different take.
It’s a budget choice that is more capable than it first appears, and is a sensible choice if you don’t mind being on EE. Its simple design and clean version of Android are refreshing on a phone that you might assume is too cheap to be any good.
For a £150 smartphone, the Hawk is well built. But its smooth unibody design is though one of the biggest smeary fingerprint magnets we have ever seen on a phone, but if you can get around that then the subtly deep blue and black of the rear is attractive.
Also on the back is a camera and flash, fingerprint sensor and EE logo.
It is smartphone design 101 from hereon in, with a compact design not dissimilar to a black iPhone from the front. Aside from the usual buttons and a headphone jack, this is a pleasingly plain phone, which is what you’d expect for the price.
It’s also great to see a USB-C port rather than the nearly-dead Micro-USB, and the free JBL in-ear headphones in the box sweeten the deal. They are quite plasticky, but have a flat and therefore supposedly tangle-free cord. For in-box headphones, they have decent response even if they are a tad too trebly.
For the same money as the Hawk, you can get a Moto G5 that we think looks and feels better built than the Hawk, but at this price we’re nitpicking.
It’s what the Hawk can do, rather than what it looks like, which is more impressive.
Processor, storage and RAM
When the Hawk landed on our desk with a weak 1.5GHz MediaTek MT6750 processor and 2GB RAM, we didn’t think its performance would overly impress. But with extensive use, EE has definitely got the balance right. The Hawk is a relatively light phone at 134g with 16GB storage. This isn’t a lot, but if you want to go media heavy, there’s a microSD slot up to 128GB. It copes well with all the simple smartphone tasks we put it through. All social media, messaging and video apps worked with admittedly an occasional stutter, but perfectly serviceable given the price.
BBC iPlayer, Netflix and YouTube work well and look good on the 5in display. Bear in mind the low resolution of 1,280x720 with 294ppi. Colours across the whole phone are also quite washed out, with not much vibrancy. But if you’re considering the Hawk, chances are you won’t be indulging in mega streaming binges and want a 4G capable smartphone for simpler tasks – ones that you won’t need to stare at the screen for hours for. For comparison, the Moto G5 has a 1920 x 1080p display that handles most content visually better.
Comparing the Hawk to the Moto G5 and similarly specified Nokia 5 in these benchmarks shows that the
Hawk edges the G5 and is a tad behind the Nokia 5, but the differences are negligible, and you won’t see any real world difference. And there’s also an FM Radio built in – a useful feature that is quite hard to find on a smartphone these days.
The 13Mp rear camera on the Hawk is fine, but you will have to accept it isn’t up to much. For quick snaps of landscapes, family and friends then it’s fine, but it only barely acceptable for social media posting and you will certainly not want to use it as your main camera on a holiday, for example.
Let’s just say you shouldn’t buy the Hawk for its camera – though we know that isn’t what EE was focussing on with it.
The EE Hawk runs Android 7.0 Nougat. There’s no promise from EE of 8.0 Oreo, but yet again for the price, this is an excellently untouched version of Android. It is very close to Google’s stock version, and means that the Hawk runs as smoothly as its limited hardware allows.
There is very little bloatware pre-installed; only My EE (an app to view your price plan that you’ll use anyway) and Lookout, an EE branded security app that scans all apps you download to ensure they’re safe to use.
Other than that, you get a clean Android experience, with Google Assistant and OK Google support and everything else you’d get on a phone
that costs over five times the price. There aren’t many customization options, such as being able to change theme, but it’s an acceptable omission for the price.
There’s an built-in Gallery app, but otherwise the Hawk prompts you to use Google’s apps for contacts, calendar and more – great, as you don’t get duplicate apps built in if you are using Google services (and we recommend that you do).
The EE Hawk is a little gem at the start of 2018. The build is above average for the asking price, and it is a solid handset to go for if you simply need to use 4G data on a smartphone but don’t want to spend half your paycheck to do it. It is not a phone to game on due to the low powered internals, though it copes with video fine. The display is quite washed out, but
the clean Android software makes up for this. You won’t want to post many pictures from the notgreat camera on Instagram, but if you want a decent snapper, you’ll look at phones that cost more. The EE Hawk is up there with the Moto G5 as one of the best budget smartphones in the UK. Henry Burrell
• 5in (1,280x720, 294ppi) IPS LCD capacitive display • Android 7.1 Nougat • MediaTek MT6750 processor • Octa-core (4x 1.5GHz Cortex-A53, 4x 1GHz
Cortex-A53) CPU • Mali-T860MP2 GPU • 2GB RAM • 16GB storage (microSD up to 128GB) • 13Mp front-facing camera: autofocus, dual-LED
dual-tone flash • 8Mp rear-facing camera • A-GPS • Bluetooth 4.0 • Micro-USB 2.0 • 2,500mAh non-removable lithium-ion battery • 144x72x7.9mm • 134g
The Honor 9 Lite has a glass front and rear
The G6 Play is one of the cheapest 18:9 handsets we’ve seen
The G6 Play’s camera is decent for a budget camera
The fingerprint scanner is on the rear and has a Motorola logo on it
The G5’s aluminium case gives it a premium feel
A selection of images taken with the rear 13Mp camera
The fingerprint scanner is located on the rear
The Nokia 5’s case is made from a single block of 6000 series aluminium
Image taken with the phone’s 13Mp camera
The Hawk has a simple and clean design
The Hawk runs Android 7.0 Nougat